'We're at the breaking point': Salon owner urges governor to reopen, says he has plan to open his business safely

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For Andrew Hulse, the last few months have been far from easy.

His two 18/8 Fine Men’s Salon locations in Maple Grove and Wayzata have remained closed during Gov. Tim Walz's 'stay at home' order. A sign outside apologizes for the inconvenience and says, "We hope to re-open soon."

"The longer it goes on, the more challenging it gets,” Hulse said. “It's tough. Small businesses aren't designed to go two months without revenue.”

Inside, among the empty chairs and the quiet, Hulse is trying to figure out what’s next for his business — and how to survive.

"There's still rent to be paid, there's still supplies we purchased prior to the closure that have to be paid for. Still utilities,” he said.

Hulse is one of five small business owners and church leaders suing Gov. Walz this week, calling the shutdown unconstitutional. The suit says the action interferes with business activities that are able to comply with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“We're at the breaking point for a lot of salons,” Hulse said.

He said he can’t comment on the lawsuit itself, but Hulse did say he fears unless something changes, his salon may not be able to stay in business much longer.

“I don’t think six months is sustainable,” he said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Experts say Hulse is not alone.

“We are collectively experimenting slowly to figure out what the new normal, what the new future is going to look like,” said V.V. Chari. an economics professor at the University of Minnesota.

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Chari says for many small businesses, the next two months will be critical. A hard truth, he says, is that a business grown for many years can be wiped out in a matter of months.

"Once you destroy the core of a whole bunch of businesses, small business in particular, for them to be replaced will take a very long period of time," Chari said.

But Hulse, a former naval flight officer, has learned to weather difficult times before. He’s tentatively opening May 18th, the day Walz’s current 'stay at home' order is set to expire.

But there will be safety protocols in place.

“Our staff and our guests would both wear masks,” Hulse says. “We would limit the number of people in the salon to only those receiving services, so there's no congregating. This particular salon is a 10-chair salon. But we feel we can only have four stylists in at any one time.”

The waiting room will be closed, and customers will be asked to wait in their cars until a stylist is ready for them.

For now, Hulse’s 20 full-time and part-time employees are laid off.

He says he and his wife Gay do weekly zoom calls with them and follow up to make sure each worker is getting proper unemployment benefits.

Hulse vows he will rehire them when things change, but not at the cost of safety.

“We have to figure out a way to move forward and keep people safe,” he said. “My grandmother is 95 years old. I’m not going to do anything to put her in jeopardy. Our employees are our family. We’re not going to do anything to put them into jeopardy either. We want to take care of them, and that’s what I’m passionate about.”